The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
Navy blue puts 10 years on me – some colours make me look younger
Sarah Bailey thought that having your ‘colours done’ was a bit naff – until she tried it
This season I’m going to be channelling Bruno Mars and buying a sherbet-pink trouser suit. These, I confess, are not words I ever thought I would write. But then neither did I think I would ever have my “colours done”.
The very idea of colour analysis has always seemed to me to be irredeemably 1970s. (Carole Jackson’s Color Me Beautiful, first published in 1973, is lodged in my brain alongside an unerasable image of Mrs Slocombe from Are You Being Served? matching her lurid pastel pompadour to her frothy polyester collar). Unfair, I admit, but the whole thing has always struck me as just a bit naff.
As it turns out, however, learning how to harness the power of colour is very much a modern phenomenon (when I ask Google, “How do I get my colours done?” it throws up 233million results).
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, given the number of celebrities (Kim Kardashian, Victoria Beckham, the Princess of Wales) who dominate our social media feeds, confidently rocking head-to-toe block colour. As for the rest of us: who hasn’t rifled through their wardrobe looking for that ever-elusive “flattering top” to prevent us looking like yesterday’s dishwater before conducting a Zoom call? We live in a hyper-visual culture, and unlocking the power of colour can be a useful tool in our personal style arsenal.
“It’s a very powerful therapy in my book,” says Jules Standish, who is doing my colours today. The independent image consultant, author, and head of colour at London College of Style (today wearing a luscious coral-hued velvet jacket and expertly applied bronzer) has helped TV presenters, politicians and life-long chromo-phobes find what works for them. “It’s not just putting a drape on and saying you need to wear hot pink or bright green or whatever it is,” says Standish, setting up shop in my kitchen extension where the unforgiving January light floods in. “It’s really about helping you discover how to find the best for yourself. I’m all about personality.”
All said, I can’t help being just a little bit sceptical. As a former fashion magazine editor, who always eschewed the front-row uniform of black-on-black, I’ve never really been afraid of colour. For my appointment with Standish, I’ve chosen to wear a vintage pink sequin pencil skirt (subtle nod to “Barbie-core”), black cashmere roll neck (unassailable fashion staple) and YSL black boots. All moot, as it happens, as all are swiftly covered up by a hospital-esque white gown, so we can go “back to basics”.
Standish asks me why I am seeking colour analysis today. As I stare at my unalloyed appearance (no make-up allowed), in the mirror we’ve propped on the kitchen table, I find myself admitting that, despite my fashion know-how, I have found the sharp contrasts of the last few years – toggling between “goblin mode” WFH, then having to pull myself together to wow at appointments – disconcerting at times. That, coupled with the creeping changes of midlife to hair, skin and general body image, means that I’m not as confident as I was. Standish nods, empathetically. It’s time for a personality quiz.
Standish prides herself on adding in a psychological aspect to her holistic, tailored approach to colour analysis; the results of which are much more nuanced than simply being told which season you fall into, and thereafter being obliged to dress like a russet-hued autumn leaf, say, for the rest of one’s days; although finding your season is at the heart of it. “I want to understand how introvert, how extrovert you are… not every single shade [in your season] is going to make you feel fabulous,” she explains. “To me colour is all about finding that individuality within a palette.”
Understanding the make-up of your genetic, inherited complexion is also key. Standish explains that she calls upon Hippocrates’ theories of bodily humours, among other things, when divining which colours are dominant in a person’s complexion. She’s keen to stress that colour analysis works for all skin tones. “It’s not ethnicity based,” she says. “Every ethnicity can fit into every season. You have to work with the individual.”
Next she scrutinises my eye colour and pattern (not all analysts do this, but this technique was part of Standish’s early training). “You probably think you have blue eyes, but actually your eye is quite green,” says Standish, holding a huge lens to my face and peering intently. “And you can see yellow going around the eye, what
I would call a sunburst.” (The sunburst offers further proof, if any were needed, that there is a lot of yellow in my skin.)
I can tell by a certain gleam in Standish’s manner that she has already nailed my season. “However, the drapes don’t lie,” she says, reaching for her bundle of swatches. “They really are the key, because you need to see this for yourself.”
So, to the drapes. Now, I’ve done some odd, cringe-inducing things in the spirit of journalism, but I did not expect to feel as confronted as I did by having squares of fabric placed on my gowned shoulders.
‘The neutrals that work for my colouring are ivory and cream. Black roll-necks are a no-no’
All I can tell you is that my responses felt visceral at times. And when Standish comes at me with a drape that is the approximate colour of a Hovis slice (an Autumn hue, you guessed it), I can barely let her put it near me. That’s why my experiments with olive military shirting never gave me that expensive Lauren Hutton allure I was going for, I note wryly to myself. I’d imagine that the same can be said for my teenage Brownie uniform.
We work our way through the colour spectrum. The process is not as simple as whether I can wear red or not: it’s about the specific shade. When a red with a bluey hue (a “Winter red”) is laid upon my shoulder, I see that I look like a limp dishcloth, with deep eye-bags and shadowy crevices to boot. Whereas a more lively, yellowy coral red (a “Spring red”) gives me a flush of good health. “An even skin tone is what we’re looking for,” says Standish.
What about navy? Famously, it’s a colour that magazines tell women of my age to wear instead of black. But the drape shows it puts 10 years on me. Whereas ultramarine (think Girl with a Pearl Earring’s headband, art fans) makes my entire visage look relaxed. And younger!
It’s abundantly clear to me by now that I am a Spring person and moreover that I suit the cleaner, brighter, zingier hues in my Spring colour wheel. But, as Standish explains, should I have a yen to wear formal suiting, inspired by Cate Blanchett in Tár, say, I should go for a blue shirt (“no bright white”) or an ivory tuxedo jacket. The neutrals that work for my Spring colouring are off-white, ivory and cream. And what about my beloved black roll-neck? An absolute no-no, unless swathed beneath a scarf or lashings of gold jewellery.
As I contemplate all this, Standish writes out a card with her summary highlights. My perfect metallic? “Gold.” Hair colour? “Golden blonde… never ashy.” And the clinch moment of the entire process for me was to discover my “wow” colour: apparently it’s “lime green”. The exact shade of my beloved Prada coat, from the 2003 Spring collection, that I have worn on repeat for the last 20 years, no less. Goosebumps.
Having had my colours done, I can report that it was much easier than it’s ever been to choose clothes for the pictures you see here. Much as I was tempted to wear a particular suit that I knew to have a waistwhittling cut, I could tell at 20 paces that its dusky pink hue (with a lot of black in it) would look like an old Elastoplast on me. And so it did. Whereas a fizzy and bright sherbet pink made me feel like I was being bathed in celestial light.
The Kelly green boucle jacket had the same illuminating effect on my skin. When I paired it with my jeans, I could feel a confident swing in my step. It was simply a very flattering combo. The further you delve into the power of colour, the more you can learn about its marvellous capacity for creating illusions that lengthen or direct the gaze – it’s the personal stylist’s box of secrets.
And it has certainly struck me just how useful this knowledge is in our era of internet shopping. Particularly if you are investing in a major item you haven’t tried before (trouser suit), it’s helpful to understand if the colour is actually going to suit you.
“It’s an incredibly sustainable way to shop,” says Standish.
So how to find a colour analyst close to you? There is a handy directory of stylists and colour experts at the back of Standish’s book A Colourful Dose of Optimism. She also suggests looking on the “colour analysis” fashion retail site Kettlewell (kettlewellcolours.co. uk), which can match you to an analyst in your area.
Arguably, you could figure out some of this yourself – with a big enough mirror, good natural light, neutral and coloured pieces pulled from your wardrobe, and a clear, unflinching eye. But I would say that if you really want to shift some of your prejudices and misconceptions about what does and does not suit you, let someone else (who is specifically trained) be the judge. It’s like putting your trust – and your root regrowth
– in the hands of your hair colourist. It can be life-changing.
Standish tells me about a client, who came to her when she was about to turn 60, having worn dark colours for years. “She said, ‘I am here because I have never been complimented’,” Standish recalls. Some months later, the client told Standish about going to a friend’s house in a new outfit she and Standish had picked out together. “That friend answered the door with the words: ‘Wow. You look fabulous.’ And I burst into tears,” she told Standish.
“For me it’s a much bigger picture. It’s about who you are, where you’re at now and how
I can take you into the next phase of your life feeling good.”
Like I said, I’m buying a sherbet-pink trouser suit that makes me feel like I could headline at the O2 Arena for 2023. But I’m not entirely sure that I can go cold turkey on the black roll-neck sweaters. Not quite yet.